US security company sued for religious discrimination over headscarf ban

A Philadelphia-area security company violated federal law when it terminated a security officer for wearing a religious head scarf and threatened to terminate other Muslim employees if they wore religious garments while on duty, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.

According to the EEOC’s suit against Imperial Security, Inc., Julie Holloway-Russell, who is Muslim, wore a religious head covering when the company interviewed and hired her for a part-time security officer position. Imperial Security provides security services for many area companies, including for large shows and events at the Philadelphia convention center. Imperial Security’s uniform policy requires employees to wear a white shirt, tie, black pants, a black belt, black socks, and black shoes, and specifically forbids additions to the uniform “… for any reason, including religion.”

When Holloway reported to her first job assignment at the Philadelphia convention center, in addition to her uniform, she wore a religious head covering, called a khimar, which covered her hair, ears, and neck, as required by her religious beliefs. The EEOC charges that at the end of the shift, the supervisor told Holloway that she was not permitted to wear her khimar while on duty. When she questioned the policy, she was told to remove the khimar. Holloway-Russell declined to remove it and left for the day.

The EEOC alleges that when Holloway-Russell called Imperial Security the next day for her work assignment and discussed her need to wear the religious head scarf, she was advised that she could wear a company-approved baseball cap, but that company policy prohibited her from wearing a khimar. Holloway-Russell was forced to decline because her religious beliefs require wearing the khimar.

The EEOC further charged that Imperial Security has forced a class of Muslim employees to compromise their religious beliefs by removing their khimars while on duty or risk termination. According to the EEOC’s suit, Muslim employees have sought modifications to the uniform policy on religious grounds, but Imperial Security refused to reasonably accommodate their religious beliefs.

EEOC press release, 16 September 2010